The story of Jesus’ birth, as told in the book of Luke, started about a year before the Nativity scene we celebrate occurred. Instead, Luke began with the story of John the Baptist’s birth, who was a cousin of Jesus’ and would grow up to preach and teach to the masses and baptize Jesus at the beginning of Jesus’ adult ministry. John’s father, Zechariah was a priest, and both he and John’s mother Elizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes. They were considered “very old” by the standards of their society and had been unable to have children. One day, Zechariah went into the temple alone to burn incense to the Lord when an angel appeared before him. He was “startled and gripped with fear,” but the angel said, “do not be afraid.” The angel told Zechariah that Elizabeth would have their child, and he would be “a joy and delight” to them. That he would be great in the sight of God and would prepare a way for the Lord. (Luke 1).
After the angel completed his monologue about how amazing John would be, Zechariah said, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” The angel didn’t take kindly to Zechariah’s question, and responded, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.” So it was that Zechariah didn’t speak until eight days after John’s birth when they arrived at the temple, and he confirmed in writing that the baby was named John. Only then was Zechariah’s tongue set free, and he began to praise God. The people were in awe saying, “’What then is this child going to be?’” For the Lord’s hand was with him.”
I’ve always wanted to believe that I would be like Mary in the story of Jesus’ birth, and willingly agree to follow God’s plan. I’ve always thought it must’ve been nice to receive such wondrous signs of God’s presence and be told the exact will of God in specific circumstances. But I’m pretty sure I would’ve actually played the part of Zechariah. A magnificent being appeared before him and had only good things to say about his unborn child. But after Zechariah got over the initial terror, he basically said, I don’t believe you. And I, being a person who will overanalyze the slightest details and silently question someone when they give me a compliment, would’ve said the same: “I don’t believe you. I don’t trust you. I don’t think you’re telling the truth. I don’t think that’s really going to happen.”
God tells us he knows us, he loves us, we are his children, and he only wants the best for us both in his Word and through other people’s actions. That God wants us to seek him for guidance and comfort. But if we’re honest with ourselves, we may admit that while God’s sentiments are lovely, we secretly don’t believe them. God couldn’t love us if he really knew us. God wouldn’t want a relationship with us. Why would the God of the universe care about us? We don’t usually speak our doubts aloud but sit in silence like Zechariah and continue to harbor the thought, “I don’t believe you, God.”
Zechariah came to believe, but maybe it wasn’t at the moment John was born and the angel’s words came to fruition. Perhaps Zechariah began his journey to accept God’s good word after he confessed his unbelief. That God used the next nine months to teach Zechariah that God loved him and only had the best interests of his family and his child at heart. So maybe we should take God at his word. When God tells us how much he loves us, we can say “I believe you, God. At least, I’m trying.” Let us pray that God helps us believe his good word to us today and every day.